Child abuse image crimes in the UK have risen - we urgently need a stronger Online Safety Bill

Our latest research has found more than 100,000 child abuse image crimes were recorded by UK police forces over the last five years1


Results from Freedom of Information requests to UK police forces show the number of offences related to possessing, taking, making and distributing child abuse material peaked at 25,281 last year (2020/21). This is up 37% from 2016/17, the total number of offences recorded over this five-year time period was 107,000.

During the first year of the pandemic, offences jumped by nearly a fifth (18%) as lockdowns, isolation, and more time spent online created a perfect storm for grooming and abuse online.

Social media is used by groomers as a conveyor belt to produce and share child abuse images on a large scale. Young people are also being groomed into sharing images of their own abuse too. 

The Online Safety Bill was introduced to reduce the risk to children of online abuse. However, it needs to be significantly strengthened so that it can truly disrupt the production and spread of child abuse material on social media. Until this happens, children will continue to be at risk of an unprecedented scale of abuse.

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Help us put a stop to the Wild West Web

Ben* was 14 when he was tricked on Facebook into thinking he was speaking to a female friend of a friend who turned out to be a man. Using threats and blackmail he coerced Ben into sending abuse images and performing sex acts live on Skype. The images and videos were shared with five other men who then bombarded Ben with further demands.


Ben's Mum, Rachel*, said:

“The abuse Ben suffered had a devastating impact on our family. It lasted two long years, leaving him suicidal. 

It should not be so easy for an adult to meet and groom a child on one site then trick them into livestreaming their own abuse on another app, before sharing the images with like-minded criminals at the click of a button. 

Social media sites should have to work together to stop this abuse happening in the first place, so other children do not have to go through what Ben did.”

Next week, the Government is expected to release a report from members of Parliament who have scrutinised the draft Online Safety Bill. 

The Bill currently fails to address how offenders organise across social media and doesn’t effectively tackle abuse in private messages. It also fails to hold top managers liable for harm or give children a voice to balance the power of the industry. 

We have set out a five-point plan to strengthen the legislation so it effectively prevents online abuse. 

  1. Disrupt well-established grooming pathways: The Bill fails to tackle the ways groomers commit abuse across platforms to produce new child abuse images. Offenders exploit the design features of social media sites to contact multiple children before moving them to risky livestreaming or encrypted sites. The Bill needs to be strengthened to require platforms to explicitly risk assess for cross platform harms. 
  2. Tackle how offenders use social media to organise abuse: The Bill fails to address how abusers use social media as a shop window to advertise their sexual interest in children, make contact with other offenders and post digital breadcrumbs as a guide for them to find child abuse content. Recent whistle-blower testimony found Facebook groups were used to facilitate child abuse and signpost to illegal material hosted on other sites. 
  3. Put a duty on every social media platform to have a named manager responsible for children’s safety: To focus minds on child abuse every platform should be required to appoint a named person liable for preventing child abuse, with the threat of criminal sanctions for product decisions that put children in harm’s way. 
  4. Give the regulator more effective powers to combat abuse in private messaging: Private messaging is the frontline of child abuse but the regulator needs clearer powers to take action against companies that don’t have a plan to tackle it. Companies should have to risk assess end-to-end encryption plans before they go ahead so the regulator is not left in the dark about abuse taking place in private messaging.
  5. Give children a funded voice to fight for their interests: Under current proposals for regulation children who have been abused will get less statutory protections than bus passengers or Post Office users. There needs to be provision for a statutory body to represent the interests of children, funded by an industry levy, in the Bill. 

NSPCC Chief Executive, Sir Peter Wanless, said: 


“The staggering amount of child sexual abuse image offences is being fuelled by the ease with which offenders are able to groom children across social media to produce and share images on an industrial scale

The Government recognises the problem and has created a landmark opportunity with the Online Safety Bill. 

But the legislation needs strengthening in clear and specific ways if it is to fundamentally address the complex nature of online abuse and prevent children from coming to avoidable harm.” 

Help us end the Wild West Web


Our Wild West Web campaign has led the push for social media regulation to help prevent child abuse online. 

We’re asking you to sign an open letter to Nadine Dorries asking the Culture Secretary to make sure children are at the heart of the Online Safety Bill.

Take action today


  1. 1. Better police recording, greater awareness of abuse, and survivors feeling more confident in coming forward can all contribute to higher numbers of recorded offences.